ChickenBones: A Journal

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Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996


Compiled by Rudolph Lewis



Feeling Like Step Children

AFL-CIO Organizers 

Want Organizer's Union


AFL-CIO Region 21

Chester C. Dusten. Director

404 Woodlark Building

Portland 5, Oregon

May 17, 1957


John W. Livingston Director

Dept. of Organization. AFL-CIO

AFL-CIO Building

Washington 6, D.C.

Dear Sir and Brother:

You will recall at the San Francisco conference, West Coast organizers were informed that a union of staff representatives was being initiated from Atlanta, Georgia. We all recognize that no labor organization was ever born without either a demand or need. This writer does not feel that there is any particular need for an organization of staff representatives.

Discussion among the staff of Region 21 has brought out several points which in this writer's estimation could be given serious consideration. One of the complaints from the people formerly with the CIO is that the so-called "lame duck" members of the staff are the ones who act in advisory capacity on the pension welfare or other fringe issues. These people feel that these "lame duck" advisors are not close enough to the pulse of the feeling of the normal staff member and that in some instances it is entirely possible that these advisors would feel that sense of obligation towards their superiors for being placed on the pay roll. This would create a condition which they could not conscientiously represent the general staff.

It is the general feeling that there is no close line of communication from Washington to the staff members on all issues concerning the staff members' welfare. All members of the field staff regard their regional director very highly. They feel that a regional director should not serve in a intermediary capacity involving wages or fringe benefits of the general staff.

As a suggestion it appears that it might be practical for the purpose of establishing a direct line of communication and creating a sense of participation among the staff members if some sort of a concrete program were adopted which would help them at least to have an indirect vote. For example if the United States for the purpose suggested above were divided into Pacific Coast, Rocky Mountain, Central States, Atlantic Seaboard and Southern States, with the organizers of these areas to be allowed to select a representative to be their liaison on matters of wages, fringe benefits, rental cars or such other problems that might arise.

Every organizer I have talked to strongly desires a sense of belonging and to be a part of AFL-CIO. Nearly all have the feeling of being step children. The San Francisco conference to a large extent alleviated the step child feeling but in no sense served as a complete answer. Those who are close to retirement are worried about their insurance benefits. Some who are not close to retirement and fringe benefit program.

Some of us know that you have worked hard for our economical benefit. One program which you favored appeared to have unqualified approval by the staff members, although they would like to have had the chance to discuss it with you or your representative before presentation. This program was that of severance pay which the employee and the AFL-CIO matched funds to create a severance plan as a lump sum payment.

All of us belonged to unions before going on the staff. While it was true that these unions which we hold affiliation are not bargaining representatives, it is a paramount fact that every staff members' union loyalties must be first and foremost with their parent union and AFL-CIO. In fact, no staff member would have been employed unless first a union member. Although this writer does not favor very strongly the formation of a union of organizers, naturally, if the entire staff should go he would be with them, same as the other organizers of this region, as well as that of Region 22. It is not organization we need, it is recognition and a sense of participation, as well as a feeling of belonging.

Writing a letter of this nature, it is difficult to keep from creating an appearance of what in private industries is know as company stooge, and yet, at the same time express ideas and opinion which the undersigned feels you should have made known to you. Content and purpose of this letter is solely to let you know the thinking of the undersigned and to some extent the thinking of the others on the staff in the area. I hope that from this letter some idea may come forth which would better conditions for all of us.

With my sincerest wishes and best regards, I remain

Fraternally yours,

Kenneth R. Bowman, Organizer

AFL-CIO Dept. of Organization

Region 21

310 Labor Temple

Seattle, Wash.

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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